"I think my hen, Whitey, is dying. She's not moving and won't let me pick her up. She also won't go back into the coop with the others. It's been over one week, and she looks in pain. Can you send her healing energy to help her feel comfortable and secure? She's my favorite hen!"
I was quite fond of these sweet, intelligent, and benevolent creatures and was eager to talk to my first chicken. I started with a body scan and felt a heaviness in Whitey's lower abdomen. In my own body, this would be the area of the ovaries. Did Whitey have an egg inside her that she couldn't push forward?
I asked Whitey if she was trying to lay an egg and heard, "I already laid them." Whitey told me she wasn't going to die. I had also felt a pain in Whitey's left foot and thought maybe she had hurt herself. I felt an energetic blockage in her 4th and 2nd energy centers; the heart center and the sexual, or creative, center.
Whitey was depressed. She wanted to have chicks. Louise enticed Whitey with her favorite delights, but maternal yearnings left Whitey motionless and cranky. I didn't know how to console Whitey, so I sent her healing energy, as Louise had asked, and flooded the hen's frail body with light and love and whatever else the universe had in mind.
That following day, Louise said Whitey hopped out of the nest and became her old self, foraging for bugs and seeds! The smallest of the three hens, she assumed her usual position as the boss again. It was beautiful to hear that Whitey turned around so quickly. Louise and I were both delighted to have learned something about hens. She had done some googling and discovered that Whitey may have gone "broody." A brooding chicken, we learned, wants to have chicks. They will sit on their nesting box and won't move for about twenty-one days, sometimes longer, as long as it would take to hatch a fertile egg. I learned that most of a hen's lifetime is spent preparing for reproduction and caring for her offspring. A hen's reproduction cycle is two or three times a year, and they might lay 20-30 eggs within that year. In a natural environment, a brooding hen will stop laying eggs, as Whitey had, until the eggs she has laid have hatched.
I couldn't help thinking of the billions of female birds in the factory farms whose basic needs and instincts are disregarded. Factory-farmed hens never get to rest into their natural body rhythms. They're routinely denied food for two-three weeks at a time, which thrusts their body into the egg-laying cycle, and forces them to lay more than 275 eggs a year.
Chickens, cows, and pigs are social creatures who enjoy each other's company. They forage for food, take dust baths and lie in the sun.
Five to ten full-grown birds are crammed into steel cages at factory farms with as much floor space as a letter-size piece of paper. "Cage Free" egg production is often the same, and where warehouses can hold as many as 10,000 birds, leaving no room for the chickens to spread their wings or venture outdoors.
The first fundamental precept of Buddhism is abstaining from the destruction of life and not causing suffering for others. The second precept is refraining from taking that which is not freely offered.
Cows and sows are sexually abused and kept pregnant until slaughter. Hooked up to machines for life, cows do not freely offer their milk to us. Never allowed to nurse, calves are torn from their mothers at birth so that every drop of milk gets delivered to us. Sows spend a lifetime in a gestation crate so small they cannot stand up or even turn their heads to see their piglets nursing through the bars. But they will see them be slaughtered.
All creatures cherish their lives and their offspring, just as Whitey cherishes hers, as your companion animals cherish theirs, and as we treasure ours.
All beings share an equal right to a decent life regardless of whether we believe they can feel pain or compassion, whether we think they have thoughts or emotions, or whether their life span is five months. We can't enslave, oppress, or make others unhappy and expect to be at peace. What we do to others, we do to ourselves.
Not eating meat or dairy creates the least harm to the animals, our health, and our environment. The meat and dairy industries are the most significant contributors to global warming, contributing 50% of greenhouse gasses. An estimated 14,000 acres of rainforest are cut down daily to grow grains for factory-farmed animals. Producing one pound of beef takes 1,581 gallons of water, roughly as much water one person would use to take one-hundred showers. Corporate greed and our appetites for meat are destroying the earth and our health.
When I feel outraged, overwhelmed, and powerless, I often recite this compassion-meditation prayer which helps keep me on track:
"May I learn to care about suffering and confusion?"
"May I respond with mercy and empathy to pain?"
"May I be filled with compassion"
"May I be humble to all of creation so that I may always remind myself why I am here?"
Photo of Whitey: Lucy Snowe www.LucySnowephotography.com